Thousands of devotees attend the first Wednesday Marian Mass in Manila on Jan. 3. The Filipinos' Wednesday devotion to Mary under the title Our Mother of Perpetual Help began in 1946 as a response to pleas of American soldiers wounded during World War II. (Photo by Mark Saludes)
People attending this year's first Wednesday Mass at the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in Manila reached a record high this year.
The rector of the shrine said about 300,000 devotees attended the Mass, exceeding the previous year's 230,000.
The Filipinos' Wednesday devotion to Mary under the title "Our Mother of Perpetual Help" began in 1946 as a response to pleas from American soldiers wounded during World War II.
Although the "novena" is conducted in all Redemptorist churches around the country, about 100,000 devotees attend the service at the shrine in Manila's Baclaran district every week.
A "novena," from the Latin novem or nine, is a tradition of devotional praying, consisting of private or public prayers repeated for nine successive days or weeks.
"Every year the number of devotees attending the Mass is higher," said Redemptorist Father Carlos Ronquillo, rector of the shrine.
"It tells us that more people are seeking the intercession of the Virgin Mother," added the priest.
Devotees who flooded the church compound this week came from all walks of life, said Father Ronquillo, adding that the "majority are poor people who submit their petitions and prayers."
During the first three days of the year, the shrine received about 1,500 petition letters and at least 200 letters of thanksgiving.
Most people pray for solutions to their financial problems, appeal for employment, while others pray for peace and reconciliation in relationships, said the priest.
Father Ronquillo said he could not explain the rise in devotees visiting the shrine "but this special Marian devotion is deeply embedded in our culture."
"The phenomenon indicates that Filipinos feel and experience the perpetual love and help of God through the intercession of Mary," the priest told ucanews.com.
The novena to Our Mother of Perpetual Help was originally published in 1899 in Jaen, Spain.
Father Ronquillo said the popularity of the novena could be attributed to the mission work of his congregation that was entrusted by Pope Pius IX in 1865 "to make the icon of Our Mother known."
The church in Baclaran is the only Marian shrine in the world that is given authorization by the Vatican in 1958 to remain open 24 hours a day.
In his homily to welcome the New Year, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle called on Catholics to learn from Mary "in our search for genuine peace."
"You are not a real Christian or a Filipino if you don’t care for others," said the prelate, adding that Filipinos need to "listen and meditate" to achieve peace.